Thursday, February 07, 2008

City study casts major doubt on state's AY parking availability estimates

A new city analysis has cast significant doubt on the Empire State Development Corporation's (ESDC) generous estimate, in the Atlantic Yards environmental review, of the availability of on-street parking in the vicinity of the project site.

It was hard for Brooklyn residents to believe the ESDC's claim (p. 12-20) that "[u]tilization of these on-street parking spaces was found to be approximately 65 percent in the 5-6 PM period, 47 percent in the 7-8 PM period, and 65 percent in the Saturday 1-2 PM period."
(Click on graphics to enlarge)

Their comments (12-84 of this PDF) were polite but incredulous. Excerpts: Seems fanciful. Simply untrue. Just not possible. Unrealistic. Never plentiful as stated. Woefully underestimates the existing capacity. (Full comments below.)

The ESDC's response was essentially a variant on that famous Marx Brothers line: Who are you gonna believe, me or your lying eyes?

Dueling evidence

To trump the observed experience of residents, the ESDC cited "extensive field surveys" of an area "within ¼ mile of the project site" by the transportation consultant Philip Habib and Associates. The surveys were conducted in February and March of 2006.

Less than two years later, things have changed enormously--at least for some of the data. As first pointed out yesterday on No Land Grab, at a residential parking workshop held last Thursday [corrected] at Temple Beth Elohim in Park Slope, a city Department of Transportation survey, conducted in January, showed that, of free parking spaces surveyed in the area surrounding the crossroads of Fourth, Flatbush, and Atlantic avenues, 98 percent were occupied at 2 pm, 98 percent were occupied at 6 pm, and 95 percent were occupied at 5:30 am.

There are obviously some differences in methodology, since the state study included both free and metered spots. And it's not at all clear that the exact same blocks were canvassed. Still, the areas seem comparable.

The city survey canvassed 332 spaces out of a total 2660 available. It's not clear what sample of spaces in the state study were canvassed, but a total of 5590 to 6280 spaces were found, including both free and metered parking.

Differences at 6 pm?

At 6 pm, according to the city study, 98 percent (2607) of the 2660 free spots in the study area were occupied. However, in the state study, only 65 percent (3660) of the 5590 spaces were filled during the 5 pm to 6 pm hour.

So, if we assumed (and it's a rough comparison) that the city study were a subset of the state study, the latter would include an additional 2930 spaces, of which 1053 were occupied. (That's how we get from 2607 to 3660.) That would represent only 36 percent of the additional spaces.

So 64 percent (NLG said 62 percent) of the additional spaces in the state study would have to be vacant at 6 pm. That's tough to believe. Even if the study areas don't completely overlap, the numbers are tough to believe.
Additional details may explain differences between the two studies. But the city study surely confirms the experience of numerous residents and suggests that the ESDC's conclusions should be taken with an large grain of salt.

"Hard look" in court?

The questionable parking statistics were not addressed in the lawsuit challenging the Atlantic Yards environmental review, which charged that the ESDC failed to take a "hard look" at various environmental impacts.

The standard for judicial review in such cases, cited in Supreme Court Justice Joan Madden's decision (p. 3 of PDF), is whether the agency followed lawful procedure and whether "the determination was affected by an error of law or was arbitrary and capricious or an abuse of discretion."

The court is not permitted to second-guess the agency or substitute its judgment for the agency. That sets a pretty high bar, since it essentially accepts an agency's response to evidence presented.

But what if another agency offers seemingly contradictory evidence? That might raise questions about the "hard look."

Primary source: From Chapter 12

This passage from Chapter 12 of the FEIS, Traffic & Parking (12-20 of the PDF), addresses on-street parking:
Table 12-5 shows the existing supply and utilization of on-street parking spaces within ¼ mile of the project site during the weekday 5-6 PM, 7-8 PM pre-game, and Saturday 1-2 PM pre-game periods. As shown in Table 12-5, accounting for curbside parking regulations, fire hydrants, curb cuts, loading zones and other restricted curb space unavailable for parking, there are a total of approximately 5,590 legal on-street parking spaces within ¼ mile of the project site during the weekday 5-6 PM peak period; 6,075 during the weekday 7-8 PM (pre-game) period; and 6,280 during the Saturday 1-2 PM (pre-game) period. The lower number of parking spaces during the 5-6 PM period reflects the more restrictive curbside regulations typically in effect during weekday peak periods. Utilization of these on-street parking spaces was found to be approximately 65 percent in the 5-6 PM period, 47 percent in the 7-8 PM period, and 65 percent in the Saturday 1-2 PM period, with approximately 1,930, 3,240, and 2,215 spaces available during these periods, respectively. As shown in Figure 12-4, many of the restrictions on parking within the study area (including metered parking) end at 6 PM or 7 PM, and some regulations, including most alternate side-of-the-street regulations, are only in effect on weekdays. Consequently, many of the on-street parking spaces available in the 5-6 PM, 7-8 PM and Saturday 1-2 PM periods can be utilized for lengthy periods (e.g., for more than two hours) or for overnight parking.

Primary Source: The Response to Comments

The Response to Comments chapter of the FEIS (12-84 of this PDF ) addresses comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, or DEIS:
(Emphases added)

The DEIS analysis of on-street parking seems fanciful. It states that the "utilization of these on-street parking spaces was found to be approximately 65 percent in the 5 to 6 PM period, 47 percent in the 7 to 8 PM period, and 65 percent in the Saturday 1 to 2 PM period..." For the DEIS to suggest that in the worst case, more than one-third of on-street parking spots are available, flies in the face of the real-world experience of the people living in these neighborhoods. (102, 103, 154, 328)

Two years ago you could find a parking space fairly easily in Fort Greene. Now people are afraid to drive because they would lose their parking space. The EIS states there is ample parking when this is simply untrue. (77, 241, 266, 284)

Table 12-5 that deals with on-street parking utilization indicates current on-street parking spaces filled to only 65 percent of capacity between 5 and 6 p.m. and 47 percent of capacity between 6 and 7 PM. This is just not possible and contradicts the recent Residential Parking Urban Study completed by the Downtown Brooklyn Council, which concluded that there is inadequate on-street parking to accommodate current community needs. (24)

The DEIS suggests low 47 percent to 65 percent current utilization rates for on-street parking in near proximity to the proposed arena. These numbers are unrealistic. There is so little on-street available parking that there is competition for double parking spaces between church-goers and police and fire department workers. Availability has been worsened by overflow parking from the Atlantic Center Mall. (461)

On Vanderbilt Avenue at the edge of the footprint of the proposed project, parking is never plentiful as stated in the DEIS. As more and more properties continue to convert to condos, on-street parking is more and more scarce. (312)

The DEIS woefully underestimates the existing capacity for on-street parking and incorrectly assumes the project will have little or no impact. (324)


The ESDC's Response: The estimates of on-street parking supply and utilization reported in the EIS were based on data collected during extensive field surveys conducted in February and March of 2006. They included all blocks within ¼-mile of the project site. Much of the area surveyed was not included in the study areas for the Downtown Brooklyn Council’s Downtown Brooklyn Residential Permit Parking Study.

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